I was out for a walk on the nature trails at Sandbar Lake Provincial Park, near Ignace, Ont., nearly three hours north of Thunder Bay. I had my sister's dog Spyro, a miniature schnauzer, and my dog Puzzle, a Jack Russell Terrier mix, with me. I was familiar with all the trails, and we got to this one little lake that has a rest area and picnic table.
I sat on the picnic table with the dogs beside me. We were looking out at the lake and we couldn't have been there more than a minute or two, when the next thing I knew, I was on the ground.
For a moment, I couldn't figure out what had happened. I was seeing stars, and as I was getting up, I was thinking, "What...?" I would've almost been less surprised to turn around and see someone with a baseball bat.
But when I turned around, a bear was there with his front paws on the table. I was stunned for a second. I froze.
My sister's dog ran to the lake, which was about 20 feet in front of us, and my dog moved to the left. That's when the bear came off the picnic table and jumped on my dog. That's when I woke up and gave the bear a kick. It backed the bear off enough that I was able to grab my dog, scoop up my sister's dog and run into the lake. I walked out as far as I could, and just tried to get my bearings. I was in shock.
I was told later that the male black bear was about 265 lbs. I didn't realize it at the time, but when he knocked me off the picnic table, he had punctured the middle of my back with his four teeth. I didn't require stitches. They just bandaged it up at the hospital. But I think it helped that I didn't know that he bit me because when I eventually found out, even though I was safe at that point, I panicked.
I do a lot of hiking, and you see bears the odd time, but usually they just run off. So once I got in the water, I thought, hopefully, he'd go his own way. But as I waded down the shore, the bear followed me. A few times, he came out toward me.
I was in the water, at certain points, up to my chest, and I had one dog over my shoulder and one under my arm. I had a little pocket knife with me, and I picked up a stick from the bottom of the water.
When the bear swam out to me, I didn't know if I should try to stab him in the eye. But I hit him in the nose with the stick and it stung him, so he turned and went back to the shore.
I yelled for help. But then I realized if someone were to come along, I'd be leading them to a bear. So then I started yelling "bear," too, but it's a pretty quiet trail, so there wasn't a good chance of anyone coming along.
At one point, the bear went into the bushes, and I thought maybe he'd finally decided to take off. I slowly made my way back, but when I got to the picnic spot, the bear came right out again. So I grabbed the dogs and ran back into the water. It was like he was trying to ambush me.
One of the biggest things that helped me that day was having those dogs with me. It kept me focused. I wasn't going to let those dogs go.
I kept moving further along the shore, where there was a lot of taller grass and I thought the bear wasn't able to see me as well. I'd been in the water for about an hour and a half by then, and I thought, "I've got to do something. I can't stay in the water too much longer."
I tried to sneak back to the trail. I knew there was a Junior Rangers cabin not far away, I figured if I could make it there and get inside, I'd have a chance. I started running. I probably ran for five or 10 minutes, thinking, "Maybe this is going to work out."
Then I looked over my shoulder, and sure enough, the bear was running down the trail after me. The dogs were in front and I was telling them to go. When the bear got close, I turned around to face him. I yelled and waved my arms, and I had my knife and stick.
He veered off into the bush, so I started running again. But the bear circled around the bush and came running up to me again. He did this two more times. The third time, he ran straight to me and stopped about six or eight feet away, and began creeping toward me. I was yelling, and figured I'd have to stab him or something. I didn't know what I was going to do.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, my sister's little dog came back, just out of my reach. It was almost like he knew what he had to do. It wasn't like he was trying to attack the bear, Spyro ran up to it. The bear raised up and pounced on him, and took off with the dog.
That's my biggest regret, losing that dog. I was hoping the dogs were going to keep running. They would have known how to get back. But they wouldn't leave me that day.
It was the hardest thing to do, to keep going and run away with my other dog. But I knew I had to. I couldn't chase after the bear. I didn't know if the bear was coming back, and I made it to the Junior Rangers camp.
One of the rangers radioed park officials, and they sent a vehicle in and cordoned off the area. Ministry of Natural Resources and OPP officials came and they ended up setting a trap for the bear. They caught it and euthanized it.
I heard it didn't have rabies but I never found out why the bear was acting so aggressively. The basic explanation was that sometimes a bear, since it's a predator, will stalk moose or other big animals. But it could be just hunger or a bear with a bad attitude.
I still almost don't believe that it happened. I don't know if it's the right way to describe it, but I do get anxiety now. I still like to camp – I don't want to hide away – but it's a lot different. If I'm walking anywhere out at camp, I have bear spray with me. I have a knife and a walking stick and everything. I go overboard now with caution.
I'm getting better, but it's hard not to think that around every corner, behind every bush, there's another bear.
Trevor Miller, 45, lives in Thunder Bay.
As told to Wency Leung